Now that Joe Flacco is in the modern pro football purgatory known as the concussion protocol, the Ravens and their quarterback are looking at two decidedly different paths forward.
His injury will either be a big deal with lasting repercussions …
Or it won't be.
I'm not trying to be flip. And to be clear, I'm not talking about repercussions as they relate to Flacco's long-term health. In that realm, ANY concussion is a big deal.
My late father, a physician, had a stock response whenever someone told him they were considering a "minor" surgical procedure.
"Minor surgery," he said, "is surgery performed on someone else."
In other words, even if Flacco doesn't miss another snap because of his concussion, don't think it wasn't painful and disorienting, and don't think he and his family aren't thinking about the consequences.
Every NFL player does.
When I say it might or might not be a big deal, I'm only talking about the football ramifications – how the Ravens' season will be impacted.
And with a concussion, there's just no telling.
This isn't a hamstring pull or a torn meniscus. There's no boilerplate medical fix, no customary timeline to rely on.
It's a head injury, something of a medical mystery. Sometimes they clear up quickly. Sometimes they don't.
Breshad Perriman played against the Miami Dolphins Thursday night after missing one game because of a concussion suffered 11 days earlier. Mike Wallace sat out Thursday night's game because of a concussion suffered four days earlier.
But sometimes players can bounce back immediately, never missing a snap.
Several of Flacco's teammates spoke confidently late Thursday night about the likelihood of his being back when the Ravens' season resumes Nov. 5 against the Tennessee Titans.
"He's got 10 days until our next game. He'll be there. Joe is one of the toughest players I know," safety Eric Weddle said.
Flacco's toughness isn't debatable. But toughness isn't going to help him escape the confines of the concussion protocol. A team of doctors and experts has to clear him. Numerous tests and thresholds are involved.
Given the scrutiny now paid to head trauma throughout the NFL, you can be sure Flacco won't be cleared just because his presence would give the Ravens a better shot at securing an important win.
He will clear the protocol when, and only when, the effects of his injury have abated.
He might be able to play. But he might not.
If Flacco can't go, the Ravens will ask Ryan Mallett, his backup, to carry them to a big win on the road. They were going to have a tough time getting it done with their starting quarterback. Trying to do it without him is certainly a higher degree-of-difficulty task.
But having played on Thursday night instead of Sunday, they have extra time to get Mallett ready. The extra time also probably means the team's full complement of wide receivers will be available for the first time in nearly a month.
Mallett, a veteran, certainly is unbowed by the challenge.
Given how effectively Alex Collins ran Thursday night, I'm pretty sure Tennessee would stack its defensive interior to try to stop him and force Mallett to take on a larger role.
But they'll probably do that even if Flacco plays, given the tepid state of the Ravens' passing game this season.
Either way, if there's a silver lining in it all, it's the timing. Flacco was injured in a game the Ravens already had in hand. Now they're only playing once before Nov. 19.
As unpredictable as concussions are, the overwhelming likelihood is Flacco will only miss one game.
Still, in a season of ups and downs, the 4-4 Ravens are trying to gain positive traction, establish a winning pattern. Every game offers an opportunity to develop that, and there aren't that many games left.
Translation: The Tennessee game is big. The Ravens could really use their franchise quarterback under center.
Will they have him? Who knows?